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2014 RiSE Lantern Festival

This post could easily devolve into a ranting of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

I’m going to save the negativity to the end, and focus on the happy things from last weekend.

However, if you just like happy things, go ahead and watch this video, and then ignore the rest of this post.

On Saturday, John and I and our housemate went to Jean, Nevada, for the RiSE Lantern Festival. This is the festival’s first year, and we were very excited. We’d bought our tickets in July, when they were just $50 apiece. With the (mandatory) shuttle to and from the lake bed, plus the cost of pre-ordering our food, we spent about $300 for the three of us to attend.

When we arrived to wait in line for the shuttle to the event, there was a rainbow!

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It also sprinkled a bit on us while we waited. We didn’t mind.

After about an hour, we got on a shuttle for the 15 minute drive out to the lake bed (the shuttle driver was the only person to check our tickets). The road to the lake bed is very narrow and windy. John mentioned this would be challenging for the bus drivers in the dark.

We arrived and walked about a quarter mile to the site. We were directed to our section by ushers and a map, and found the food tents where we should pick up our dinners. The lanterns and yoga mats were disbursed in our section, about three of each, placed at the base of each torch.

The original emails and what-we-paid-for were two lanterns per person. Seeing that there were not enough lanterns to go around, we shrugged and decided that three lanterns was plenty for three of us. It takes two to launch a lantern, after all.

The food was delicious (though John had to go to a second tent because they were out of one of our meals), and none of our party got sick from it. We were particularly peckish, since it was closing in on 7 PM. I also stopped for beer for all 3 of us, which was well received.

In line for the beer, I had the most pointless human interaction I’ve ever had, I think. A server (volunteer?) was walking up the long line (the cash line moved, the credit line was very slow), taking orders and chit-chatting with people in the line. She then handed the order slip to us to carry up to the front, where we handed it over, said what we wanted, and got our beers. There was literally no purpose to the slip. In fact, by the time I reached the front of the line, I had changed my mind, changed my order, and the servers grabbed me three beers instead of two beers and a wine ($30, please).

The ushers also had pens, and gave us a couple to write on our lanterns with. We did, putting hopes and dreams and thoughts on the lanterns that would be going into the sky. For privacy reasons, I will only share this one that I added to our first lantern:

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During all this, the band continued to play. The music was good. Not too “Granola,” not too pop.

At 8:30, an hour behind schedule, the announcer on the stage told us all to light our torches and then, a few minutes later, our lanterns. I had a lighter with me, but the ushers were suddenly running through the rows, handing out matches.

It takes about 2 minutes for the lanterns to be ready to launch. I was very concerned about our paraffin not lighting:

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Finally, it lit and our paper lantern began to fill with hot air.

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When it was time, we released it into the sky!

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It was magical, and beautiful, and full of emotional impact for all three of us.

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And for 10,000 other people, too!

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The announcer let us know that we had another half hour or so to launch the rest of our lanterns, and to enjoy ourselves.

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We eventually finished up, cleaned up our site, and walked back towards the shuttle stop. It was roughly 9 PM.

The Book of Gripes

This is where I list the gripes and complaints. Bear with me, because from any objective perspective, this event was an unmitigated disaster of logistics.

We got on a shuttle at 1 AM. We got home at 2 AM.

The overarching complaints that were posted on social media the next day were:

  • Traffic on I-15 to Jean was backed up for more than an hour.
  • Shuttle transportation to the venue was too slow, and many people who had left an hour early arrived 1-2 hours late, some arriving after the lanterns were launched.
  • The walk from the shuttles to the circle was a bit long.
  • Late arrivals did not get lanterns or yoga mats, since extras were often claimed by earlier arrivals. We definitely found that to be the case, since the space we claimed was missing 1 lantern per mat.
  • The ushers ran out of pens.
  • The food tents ran out of food, even pre-paid food. This was in part because no one checked to see if we had already picked up our food, nor did they do anything to mark the receipt as having been picked up. The honor system was already not working.
  • While I was waiting in the beer line, one of the other participants complained that the alcohol was beer and wine only. It’s an event with 10,000 people lighting fires, many of whom appear to be entitled asshats, and you want to add hard liquor to the mix?
  • Nobody checked tickets in the VIP section. I don’t know what VIPs got– I kind of hope they were on the Rio shuttles (see below).
  • Nobody checked tickets at all.
  • Children were seated in the “non-family” section. This was unsafe. Families were supposed to sit in the family section, where kids could draw on the lanterns, and then the parents would take them to the fire to light and launch.
  • No matches, no fire. But most groups did seem to light things on fire pretty readily.
  • After the launch, there was no direction on getting back to the shuttles, just a march through the desert at night, with not much lighting. There were no barricades or corrals to keep the lines orderly. This led to lots of line-cutting, anger, and waiting. So much waiting. In general, we would step about 5 steps forward every 20 minutes or so.
  • Early on, a staffer or volunteer would swing by and direct people– sometimes incorrectly– that there were two shuttle lines– Gold Strike (in Jean) and Rio (in Vegas). The Rio line was short– very short. And moving quickly. The Gold Strike line did not move. At all. We debated taking the Rio shuttle. It would mean getting a cab home then driving down in another car to pick up mine.
  • At about 10:00, when there was still some light from the lanterns in the sky, some staff members stopped by with bottles of water, which they handed out to the crowd. This probably kept people from dying.
  • The volunteers and most of the staff left by about 10 PM. We saw a group of them departing together– it appeared they had no trouble getting on a bus.
  • Apparently, the bus company’s contract ended at 11 PM. There were probably 8,000 people still waiting at that hour. We hadn’t even passed one of the electric lights by then.
  • Around that time, a group of people announced they were going to walk. “It’s 3-5 miles to the Gold Strike.” It’s actually 8.
  • By 11:30, people were uncomfortable, thirsty, hungry, needed to go to the bathroom, etc. “The longer this goes on, the more likely someone will be seriously hurt or sick,” John commented. I am honestly surprised no one died.
  • At about midnight, as we were getting closer to the shuttle waiting area, the woman in front of us threw up everything she’d consumed since 1986. We had to stand there, a few feet away, unable to really help, except to offer water (which she already had).
  • Other people reportedly got sick as well, because they got food poisoning from the food that had been trucked in from Los Angeles, 4 hours away (Las Vegas, with its magnificent catering culture, is 30 minutes away).
  • I have heard that there was pushing and shoving. Aside from anger at the line-cutters, I didn’t see this behavior.
  • I have also heard that there was marijuana. We smelled some, but didn’t see it.
  • Being sardine-packed with people smoking, however, was really rough on the ol’ lungs.
  • When we reached the “waiting area,” it was actually the road– half of which was blocked by people waiting for busses (and slowing things down, since the road was now a 1-lane road), with no gates or corrals or barriers to keep anyone from jumping the line, or even knowing where the line was supposed to be! We watched busses stop, then move on, empty. We watched busses stop at the far left, pick people up, and drive on. There was literally no direction from anyone official. We saw maybe one staff member telling people to stand here or there, but he was lying through his teeth when he said things like “We’ll get you on the next one.”
  • At 1 AM, families with very young children and elderly were still waiting for busses. I don’t personally believe that if you bring your child to this kind of event that you deserve any special treatment, and I knew walking in when I saw all the kids that this was a bad event for little children. But let’s assume that the rest of humanity does think kids deserve preferential treatment? Not cool.
  • On Monday, a video circulated of all the trash. On-site, the trash was terrible. A lot of plastic (bags from the lanterns, food containers, yoga mat packaging), with absolutely no large containers and clearly nobody coming by with garbage transport to remove it. Off-site, the lanterns go up, the paraffin burns up, and then they come down, littering the dry lake bed. In the 4 minutes when they’re in the air, they can only go about a mile and a half, mostly in one direction, though, and we’ve heard from the news that the RiSE staff are actually out there picking things up on schedule.

We finally got onto a shuttle at a little after 1 AM. We got home at 2 AM, 5 hours after we had left the launch area. The launch itself, for us, was 30 minutes of amazing (8:30 start, 9 PM stop). I try to focus on the positives of this event. I try to focus on the happy things, the launch itself, the beautiful night (it was really good weather!) The companionship of my family. The warmth of my heart and the joy we felt that night.

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